A Cubs fan’s confession: Never let ‘em see you cry while you wait till next year
The baseball season ended a week ago.
It didn’t end quietly, but rather with a walk, a stumble and a thud. The playoffs are like that. If you don’t bring your best game to the ballpark, you go home quickly.
The Cubs, the team with the best record in the National League – the team that scored the most runs, the teams with six players with 20 or more home runs, the team with four quality starters and a top bullpen – went home after three games.
It’s been 100 years since the Cubs won a World Series, and 1945 was the last time they were even there.
That’s only important if the World Series is the end-all of all being, the raison d'être, the reason the game is played.
Speaking as someone who has never known the thrill and agony of the World Series in the first person, I think that emphasis is misguided.
The reason to play the game is the game.
Baseball is about two teams.
Nine players on the field.
And 27 outs a side (not counting extra innings).
It is pitching, location, control.
It’s about swinging a rounded stick of lumber at a ball that might be closing in on 100 mph – or might fall out of the sky like a billiard ball rolling off the side of a pool table.
It is left-handed and right-handed versus each other. And whether that really matters.
It’s about the designated hitter versus letting pitchers swing the bat - pitchers like Carlos Zambrano today, and Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins when I was a kid.
It is about the right player in the right spot at the right time.
It’s about “hitting ‘em where they ain’t.” I thought it was Ty Cobb who said that about his .400 lifetime batting average. In fact, it was the 5-foot-4, 140-pound Wee Willie Keeler, a turn-of-the-last-century baseball player who finished a 19-year career with a .341 lifetime average, according to baseball-almanac.com.
For the first time in many years, I had the opportunity to listen to Cubs baseball games this year while working desk duty on the late shift. I tuned in to many games this year thanks to the miracle called the Internet and Major League Baseball’s Game Day Audio, a bargain at $14.95 a season.
I also had the option of ordering the video feed for about 10 times that, but I don’t think readers would’ve gotten many issues delivered this summer.
So I went with the radio broadcasts and listened to the games in the background while I worked.
I grew up listening to baseball on the radio, starting with a small, black AM transistor radio when I was 9.
That would have been the summer of ‘69, as the song goes, and, coincidentally, the year of another memorable Cubs collapse noteable only because the annual June swoon and August wilt hadn’t yet ended hopes for the season.
I remember plenty of nights listening to that radio tucked under my pillow as I drifted off to sleep, listening to the accounts and descriptions of the Major League Baseball game as I dreamed of the day I would play in Wrigley. (Turns out I couldn’t throw a curve ball or hit one, so here I am.)
I have fond memories of Fergie Jenkins and Bob Gibson dueling it out on a muggy St. Louis summer night, both pitchers growing stronger the more they sweat. Finally, sleep would overtake me, sometimes before the game’s conclusion, sometimes not.
When I was older and working construction, the radio at the job site was always tuned into WGN for daytime baseball games at Wrigley.
I recall one day the job foreman tried to convince his boss/my dad to take the day off and go down to Wrigley. The wind was blowing out hard and it would be a great day to sit in the bleachers, we said.
And it would have been, we knew, as we listened to history being set in a batters duel. The Phillies hit six homer runs that May day in 1979, the Cubs 5.
I thought about those games and others this summer while I listened to Pat Hughes and Ron Santo on the WGN Internet radio broadcast.
One of the first games I caught was a broadcast from Houston and Santo was yelling out the broadcast booth at someone in the crowd. A couple Astros fans were apparently holding up a large banner that was blocking his view of the game. That’s not something you hear every day, and Hughes razzed him about the outburst the rest of the game, to the delight of the radio audience.
I also got the chance to listen as former St. Louis nemesis Jim Edmonds sparked a rally that brought the Cubs back from a 9-1 deficit against Colorado.
And I was fortunate to be listening last month as Zambrano pitched a no-hitter against the Astros.
Those are the things I’ll remember through the long winter months counting down the days until pitchers report for spring training.
Dan Ryan, my favorite college professor at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill., asked his political science class to write an essay on whether we were an idealist or a realist.
A simplified version of my answer was that I am an idealistic realist. That assignment helped me prepare for my journey through life.
I am a Cubs fan. Sure, idealistically, the Cubs would be on their way to a World Series championship.
But the cold, hard reality of life is that it’s mid-October.
The Cubs aren’t supposed to be playing, and they are not. That’s reality. That, and “there’s always next year.”
That’s what being a Cubs fan is about. I’s not about crying over eight walks allowed (Game 1), or every infielder making an error (Game 2).
It’s about never letting a Cardinals fan see you cry.
Yeah, just wait until next year. …
I’ll be out looking for a 2009 calendar to see when spring training starts, so e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.